Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Did Jews Invent the Intolerance Meme?

Interesting article here on how a Catholic priest, Diego de Landa, single-handedly destroyed the written language of the Mayans. Author Craig A. James states:
Diego de Landa's one-man inquisition perfectly illustrates the power of the Intolerance Meme, an idea that evolved in the Jewish religion a few centuries before the birth of Jesus, and was taken up with a vengeance by Christians in the third and fourth centuries AD. The Intolerance Meme declares that not only is Yahweh the only god, but in addition, anyone who worships other gods is committing a sin. The Intolerance Meme justifies all sorts of atrocities in Yahweh's name: Murder, slavery, forced conversion, suppression and destruction of other religions, racism, and many other immoral acts.
Oh, man, I thought, yet another radical atheist with an axe to grind against religion. Indeed, James' brief biography shows that he has been greatly influenced by Richard "The Root of All Evil" Dawkins.

James' more extensive writings on the "Intolerance Meme" can be found in his book, The Religion Virus. If you are interested in reading his own novel take on early foundational Judaism, check out this excerpt. (Sample quote: "[Abraham and Moses] believed in, and sometimes worshipped, the gods Baal, Asherah, Anat, and many others.").

Now I (and countless other Jewish bloggers) have written on some of the disturbing aspects of Torah law, not to mention genocidal atrocities such as those committed by the Israelites against the Canaanites (although these may never have actually occurred.)

Nevertheless, let's be honest here: it isn't just the "intolerant" monotheistic religions of the West that are guilty of such behavior. There are long shopping lists of barbarism committed by Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, plus the unparalleled crimes against humanity carried out by atheist anti-religionists such as Stalin and Pol Pot. James naively suggests that the Jews invented intolerance, but this is not an issue of religion or secularism, it is an issue of power and control. Religion is just a very convenient means by which such control can be exerted on others.

Fortunately, the Pharisaic progenitors of Rabbinic Judaism abandoned strict application of Torah law long ago - even when the Sanhedrin was still extant. I certainly do not desire that Israel return to a theocracy, but if it does I would hope that - regardless of indications to the contrary by many of the so-called gedolim of today - our evolved moral sensibilities would take precedence over some misguided nostalgia for intolerant fundamentalism.


LonelyMan said...

Judaism may be the oldest remaining world religion to have a theologically-rooted intolerance, but I am sure most countries were generally intolerant in Ancient Near East, specifically towards outsiders. Well, that's at least in the case of textual matters, but I am not versed exactly with Indian holy texts and have even less idea about Zoroastrianism...I do remember though that some God committed some sort of large-scale genocide, but I'm not sure if that counts. Still, I am almost sure that religiously-justified intolerance happened in Hinduism and Zoroastrianism perhaps even before it happened in Judaism.

But, you're still right on the fact that there is more than one way to skin a goat and more than one way to justify an atrocity and make it palatable. Still, in general, I cannot think of a surefire case that the ancient Hebrews committed large-scale atrocities which are recorded. Going to war doesn't count, as that was as common in the Ancient Near East as breathing. There's generally no consensus whether the genocide of the Canaanite people happened among the Biblical commentators. That, and the heretic in you would say that there was no full-scale warfare to begin with, and the Hebrews either came from the Canaanite tribes, were escapees from Egypt (the Apiru) or some other theory :).

I am happy though that the rabbis made some reform, though on some areas they did not go far enough, such as stoning people for not keeping the Shabbat or death penalty for a non-Jew for keeping Shabbat. They tried in the framework to make it difficult to convict, particularly on the fact that you have to deliver a warning in a specific manner and see them commit the act after the warning. It was a good compromise, but as we can see today, it did not stop intolerance, though it curtailed the expression to less explicit means.

jewish philosopher said...

Look at the story of Hannukah. The Greeks weren't exactly tolerant.

Yirmiahu said...

I'm only vaguely familiar with the concept of memes, but this sounds like a convenient way of facilitating and legitimizing hasty generaliztion.

-suitepotato- said...

Intolerance is at the most basic level a byproduct of the animal survival instinct. Tolerating threats is unhealthy. Fight, kill, eat. Or flee, run, hide.

Humans of course aren't simple animals no matter how hard they try on Saturday night at Vic's Meat Market Bar and Grille.

They like to feel special, they like to feel wanted, they like to feel appreciated.

They take exception to people they never even proselytized to not believing the same things. They take exception to their parents disagreeing with them on eating desert before dinner. Why? They view it as rejection and non-affirmation of them as individuals.

Simple human tendencies become the killing fields of Cambodia and eastern Europe. Every religion encompasses this to some extent, and when they take it to the extreme extent, you get the Spanish Inquisition, the Muslim Holy Wars, maybe the actions against the Canaanites or in secular terms the Holocaust, etc.

Of course, a belief chosen not based on actual logical rational thought but mere emotional choice of what to believe irrespective of any proof, amounts to faith, and any social framework to account for it and give it form and ritual amounts to a religion and from Nazism to environmentalism, to Christianity and Islam, humans have a huge number of religions.

Hence, many opportunities for disastrous runaway intolerance.

The Candy Man said...

Very nice post. I agree with you in many ways.

Religion is just a very convenient means by which such control can be exerted on others.

With great power comes great responsibility. Let's hope the clergy of tomorrow recognize the power they wield and stop it from being abused by the intolerant.

Michael Oren said...

I appreciate your views. Though memes have gotten a bad rap lately, I think it aptly describes the phenomenology of cultural evolution.

I came across a claim that A. Hitler accused the Jew of inventing Christianity. I see that there is a debate about this possibility. Do you know of any factual bases for this in the Talmud or anywhere?

Frum Heretic said...

Although I'm not sure of the context of the Hitler's assertion, in one respect he may have been right! See my most recent post which discusses the theory that a rabbinic "covert operation" was responsible for the schism that created Christianity as a separate religion from Judaism.

Anonymous said...

THE LIAR (anagram) in his own private writings accused the Jew, not of inventing Christianity, but of inventing the conscience, something he hated. (He probably wanted to kill the Jews to wipe this idea out. As long as there were Jews alive in the world he would never succeed.) He was especially opposed to the phrase "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." This was an article in the Atlantic a few years ago about what he wrote in books in his private library..

The idea that everyone has to believe in the same religions stems from Christianity and later. Judaism was never really concerned that much about what people believed , certainly not as a thing in itself. In fact the whole meaning of "religion" as meaning what people beleive stems only from Christianity.

About the Khmer Rouge - that happened because, so to speak, Pol Pot and his cohorts had never completed all the courses at Communist dictatorship school. They knew how to rule in the country but not how to rule in the city, so they sent everybody back to the country, as near as they could where someone "belonged" They also neglected to actually inform people of the rules, but just punished them.

* Of course if people killed each other all the time, there would be no society. His apparently intended replacement for ethics and morality was loyalty, probably mostly based on blood relationships, although they weren't in his case. Feeling bad about people being killed he called "bourgeois sentimentality"

Sammy Finkelman said...

- Sammy Finkelman

Sammy Finkelman said...

The Atlantic article is at but it doesn't contain what I thought although it mentions marginalia. The claim that Jews invented the conscience I find alluded to elsewhere on the Internet but have no good source, but I remember it. The note about You shall love thy neighbor as thyself I don't really find in the ryback article although it mentions there is a pencil line next to that in one book. Somewhere I think THE LIAR wrote a few words against it too.

Frum Heretic said...

Sammy, perhaps you are thinking of this Hitler Y'S quote: "Conscience is a Jewish invention, it is a blemish like circumcision."

Anonymous said...

lonelyman"I am sure most countries were generally intolerant in Ancient Near East"
Are you crazy, the persians gave their people and the outsider they conquered freedom of religion and cyrus the great freed the jews to go back to jeursulum he is even mentioned in the hebrew books